Until recently I was under the impression that the only way to make decent pizza at home, was by baking it in a traditional woodfired built in pizza oven. Unfortunately I don’t have on of those at hand, nor do I see myself having the space or cash to get one in the foreseeable future. I thought I was doomed to a life of bad takeaway pizza, or soggy bases.
Well lucky for us, I was WRONG! (Yes, yes, savour the moment, I don’t admit to this very often)
Ladies and gents, I give you, the Earthfire Portable Pizza Oven!
To be honest with you, when I first saw this baby on Yuppiechef about a year ago I thought nah, that little thing can’t possibly work as well as they claim; this must be some sort of gimmick, so I promptly ignored it and went back to sulking about the lack of quality pizza in my life.
Then near the end of last year I thought I’d take a chance and ask the guys at Earthfire if I could borrow a demo unit to do a review (pretty please). I thought they would laugh me off, but much to my delight they agreed and I picked up the oven shortly thereafter.
I invited my neighbour Wolf over for a trial run that evening and we both concluded that it was a great success. ( I was so excited I forgot to take any pictures of the actual pizzas, sorry guys). We did two more trial runs that week, just to be 100% sure you know…
Next up I invited some of my fellow food blogger friends over for a year end wind down. I asked each of them to bring some fancy ingredients and they came up with some really cool combinations. They all had nothing but high praise for the oven, and the man handling the cooking of course. Such nice friends I have :)
When the questions on “how I can also get one for review purposes” started flying around I politely changed the subject and fetched more wine, worked like a charm.
A few days later, my friend Ricky from ShapeShift phoned me up and asked me if I’d be keen on doing the catering for their year end party. We talked about options for a while and I told him about this rad new pizza oven I am playing with. He liked the sound of that so it was settled, I was to cater for +- 20 people the Friday night, with this little oven as my only cooking vessel.
I went into a mild flat spin (this was also my first catering gig), but in the end we managed to pull it together and had an absolute ball (as you can see on some of the faces below).
The nice thing about a big pizza party like this is that everyone can get hands on and create their own masterpiece, and then get to walk around afterwards handing out tasters and boasting about the virtues of their masterpiece.
You can easily churn out 8 – 10 pizzas in this baby before she might need more coals, but if you are ever worried that you might run out of juice too quickly, there is a simple fix for that. Keep a fire going in your braai so you can easily top it up at any time, great for ambiance, and heat on cold nights.
Now with portability being one of the main selling points of the oven, I thought I’d take it on holiday with me to see how it performs “on the road”. I strapped my new best friend in on the passenger seat and off we went.
First stop Jongensfontein, where my family normally spends some time during December holiday.
My new Head Kitchen Assistant (read cute lil niece Kayla) kindly “helped” me with dough kneading duties earlier that morning so I thought it only fair that she get to join me and some friends later the day when we embarked on Operation Beach Pizza.
I think it is safe to say that I am now her favourite uncle (Game on Uncle John!)
This was really such a lekker day. We found one of those spots next to the beach where they have braai areas layed out and parked off there for a good part of the afternoon. Again everyone got a turn to create their own pizza, I really love this way of eating, getting everyone involved.
I was on the road again after a week or so of chilling with the fandamily, this time heading to the farm of my good friend “Aaklige Attie” (don’t ask). He had a traditional style oven installed a while back and I was keen to do a Bake Off, to see which oven comes out on top.
According to my Italian friend and mentor Roberto Pietrella, a traditional pizza oven gives you three things your conventional oven can’t do.
Heat: Most Home ovens simply don’t get hot enough and stop at 240°. You need at least 350° or more.
Porous surface: The porous surface of the bricks (or the pizza stone in the Earthfire’s case) helps to draw the moisture out of the base, making it nice and crispy. The same can’t be said for a baking sheet in an oven. I have seen people pack bricks in their ovens with some success, but this seemed like a tricky afair and depends on your oven, where the element is etc.
Woodfired taste: This is pretty self explanatory, the smokey flavour of woodfired pizza is simply amazing. I wouldn’t advise chucking wood chips in your conventional oven, you’ll burn the place down.
Now, if you go purely on which oven bakes the best pizza, the traditional style oven is still the winner. The biggest difference is that it has a lot more heat coming in contact with the top of the pizza, which allows it to caramelise the cheese and other ingredients. You can see this on “Aaklig’s” creation on the left below. You may also notice that the man is most definitely in the “MORE CHEESE” camp.
My more refined creation using the Earthfire (on the right) had a crispier base, but I would have liked a bit more caramelisation on top. This is really not a big deal at all, but I thought I should at least mention it to you.
There are a number of other factors we need to consider here though.
Footprint: If space is an issue for you, the Earthfire wins hands down, as illustrated bottom right
Cost: I’ve asked around for quotes to get a built in oven installed, and they started at around R14 000, the Earthfire retails for R2500, ’nuff said.
Ease of use: The built in oven takes quite a bit of effort to clean, and takes about 2 hours to warm up to its optimum temperature. Cleaning the Earthfire is so easy it almost doesn’t count, and you will be cooking your first pizza in 40 minutes flat.
Throughput: You can cook more than one pizza at a time in a traditional oven, so technically it wins here. But in theory you could buy yourself 5 Earthfires for less money and run then in tandem, that’ll show ‘em!
Fuel usage: The built in oven went through a big crate of wood hungrily, the Earthfire used about a quarter of a bag of charcoal.
Portability: Honestly, making pizza at the beach… Do I need to explain here? Also, once heated up, you can carry your Earthfire inside and put it on your dining room table (on a tile or wood board of course) and you can cook right there and then, neat huh?
It was “Aaklige Attie’s” birthday a few days after the Big Bake Off. As per tradition, he was having a shindig next to the river on their farm, cooking a lamb on the spit, Argentinian “Asado asador” style.
Drinking and telling rude jokes Braaing from mid day on an empty stomache in the sun have proven problematic in the past, so we decided to make some garlic pitas as starters this time round. I must admit it was a much more civilised afair (until later the evening when the womanfolk left of course, but I won’t elaborate on that here)
I modified the recipe for pizza dough (included with the oven) somewhat and came up with my own version, a Honey and Paprika dough, that got rave reviews from the masses. I will post a recipe for the dough as well as the tomato base used on most pizza in the coming weeks.
I got a call from one of the dudes who helped me cook the pitas a few days afterwards, asking for my recipe. He found an Earthfire oven at a shop in Robertson, immediately bought one, and now had friends coming over for Pizza. He clearly was rather impressed with this little beauty.
So to conclude, I do not like this oven, I absolutely LOVE it! It really has exceeded my expectations and I can recommend it to you with a clear conscience, buy one, you will dig it.
If you’d like to get your hands on one, you can find them in various braai and fireplace stores around the country (dealer list here). To avoid running around trying to find one that has stock etc, I’d advise buying one online at my favourite
salary devouring website Online Kitchen Tools Emporium, Yuppiechef.co.za.
If you are one of those still sceptical of buying things online, I suggest you give these guys a try, you will be pleasantly surprised, guaranteed!